Castro denies claims he has $900m fortune: 'Why would I want money?'

Fidel Castro is accustomed to the occasional verbal volley from Washington accusing him of tyranny and oppression. There is, however, a sure way for America to get under the 79-year-old Communist leader's skin - by calling him filthy rich.

This is what Forbes magazine is doing by including Castro in its latest rich list, Fortunes of Kings, Queens and Dictators, due for publication in its 22 May issue. News that he had been ranked number seven out of 10 on the list surfaced earlier this month, but it was only this week that Castro finally reacted.

Appearing on a four-hour programme on state television called Mesa Redonda, the Cuban dictator banged the table and called the claim "repugnant slander". He said: "Why would I want money, especially now that I'm going to be 80 years old? Why would I want money now, if I never wanted it before?"

Forbes puts Castro's fortune at $900m (£480m), nearly twice the $500m for Queen Elizabeth and only a notch below Prince Albert of Monaco, who has $1bn. Number one is the Sultan of Brunei, with $20bn, followed by Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed al-Nahyan of the United Arab Emirates, with $19bn.

More than the figure, what really sent Castro into a spin of indignation was the magazine's simultaneous suggestion that he may also have money in secret Swiss bank accounts. Castro said he would resign if proof of such accounts were ever found.

For its part, Forbes said yesterday it stood by its "statement and valuation", adding that it had not even taken into account possible additional funds in Switzerland. The magazine acknowledges that in assessing the fortunes of some world leaders its "estimates are more art than science".

It offers no evidence of the Swiss accounts, only rumours of their existence. However, it says that it has the word of former officials from the Cuban regime that their leader skimmed profits from state corporations.

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